The Tyranny Of Ralph

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Ralph No. 2 lounging in his New Jersey yard

Ralph No. 2 lounges in his New Jersey yard in this Breslow family photo. Courtesy of the Breslow family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Breslow family
Peter Breslow, age 19, with Ralph No. 1

Peter Breslow, age 19, with Ralph No. 1. These days, Breslow is the senior producer for NPR's Weekend Edition. Courtesy of the Breslow family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Breslow family

When my twin daughters were 2 or 3 years old, I began telling them nightly Ralph stories. Ralph was my third family dog growing up. First, there was the beloved Cindy — a gentle, copper-colored cocker spaniel we got when I was in kindergarten. She died during my freshman year in college.

Then came Ralph No. 1, whom my sister found wandering the streets of Monterey, Calif., and sent back east to my parents' home. Ralph 1 was an adorable, mop-headed Lhasa apso who could go from licking your hand to tearing at it in an instant. Soon after he arrived, he attacked my mother — and so my father quickly dispatched him to a "farm." You know — that "farm" where all problematic dogs go.

But with her kids all out of the house, my mother really wanted another pet, so we found her a precious Hungarian puli. As she had a hard time remembering names, my mother decided to christen this dog Ralph also: Ralph No. 2.

He was a puffy handful of curly black hair as a puppy. That's when he chewed through an electrical cord and got zapped. My father revived him, but from that day forward, Ralph 2 was never the same — twitching and jumping and, completely unprovoked, racing around the house doing bank turns off the walls. Sometimes I would look out through the kitchen window and see Ralph — his jaws clamped around the excess rope hanging down from the backyard clothesline we used as his runner — dangling contentedly in the breeze, two feet off the ground.

To be honest, I never really liked Ralph 2 all that much — he was an annoying escape artist who prompted many frantic searches. Still, there was something endearing about his canine zaniness, and so he became the plucky protagonist for my daughters' bedtime stories, his exploits echoing my own adventures a bit. As we lay in bed snuggling, they would invariably chime, "Can we have a Ralph story, Daddy?"

Just about every night, I conjured something up: Ralph climbing Mount Everest, Ralph winning the Tour de France, Ralph the courageous lifeguard at the Jersey Shore.

If I ran thin on material and tried to repeat a tale — let's say, the time Ralph had to change the light bulb on the top of the Empire State Building — they would catch me.

"You already did that one, Daddy. Tell us a different story."

The pressure to be original was relentless. After a while, what began as a pleasant nighttime ritual started feeling like a chore.

To keep things fresh, I added characters from my New Jersey past: Larry Maloney, Nippy Garbeck and Paul Rudat. I even threw in Joe Smert, my grounds crew boss at the local golf course, who — I was later informed — went after the clubhouse cook with a meat cleaver. But in my stories, Larry and friends were all Ralph's compatriots in his escapades.

Even with the sidekicks, creating new Ralph sagas became more and more onerous. I just wanted to loll in bed with my daughters, not come up with innovative plotlines. And how could they possibly remember that potboiler about Ralph paddling up the Amazon? That was two years ago.

Well, time has flashed forward, and my daughters are now 9. They hardly ever ask for Ralph stories anymore, and I know it won't be too long until they grow tired of the nighttime cuddling, despite my best efforts to shrink-wrap them in this golden age.

I've begun to miss telling those tales of Ralph, and I've even developed a new fondness for him. But we are now contemplating getting a dog of our own. So soon, perhaps, my daughters will start stockpiling material for their own yarns. And while we haven't come up with a list of possible names for the pet yet, I just may vote for Ralph No. 3.

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